What do you think about garden gnomes? In the Time Magazine article “Art: Revelations in a Dank Garden,” Robert Hughs writes that, “From De Chirico’s piazzas to Steven Spielberg’s suburbs, our culture is intermittently fascinated by the noonday goblin—the sense that something is askew within the well lit, the ordinary, and that the closer you peer the odder it gets.” Is that what you think about garden gnomes? One gardener interviewed for this article thought that garden gnomes are supposed to scare people away. That couldn’t be further from the truth (but it may, indeed, scare some people away). Like any lawn ornament, it seems that some people love them, and some people hate them.
What is the Origin of the Garden Gnome?
In the book Gnome and Garden by Marcus Mennes, he writes that the origin of the word “gnome” may have come from the Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus who “referred to gnomes as earth spirits … In his theory, spirits personified the elements: gnomes (Earth), salamanders (Fire), sylphs (air), and nymphs (water).” Mennes further writes that the garden gnome may have become popular as a symbol of the earth spirit in gardens during the Renaissance and Baroque periods (when topiary and other garden art and garden fountains became popular).
How did these little guys make it into so many gardens around the world? It looks like we can thank the Germans. According to Adrian Morgan in the book Toads and Toadstools, garden gnomes “are one of the many customs imported to England from Germany (such as the Christmas Tree).” They are “placed as symbols of good luck and guardianship, and pose as protectors of the lawn or fish pond.”
Where do you place your garden gnome? Morgan writes that “In Britain the Chelsea Flower Show still insists on banning gnomes from its exhibitions, but in 1992 almost half the respondents to a questionnaire in a gardening magazine (Home and Garden) admitted to possessing these garden ornaments”.
Many may consider a garden gnome a thing of novelty. But now you know that it actually looks after you and your garden.
By Shannon Mendez